Monday, 23 June 2014

V is for Verdejo: The White Grape You Must Try This Summer

Photo: Aurelien S (CCL)

It all began on a spring evening at The Fox at Willian for The Boy's Ma's birthday dinner. I was driving  us all there (boo!) which OF COURSE meant that as soon as we arrived we discovered The Fox has one of the greatest wine lists of any restaurant in about a 20 mile radius of where I live. AND I COULDN'T HAVE ANY!

After a reasoned debate 'monumental hissy fit' that came very close to causing 'a scene', we all 'decided' I got to choose the group's first bottle of wine, and I was allowed one very small pity glass of it to shut me up.

My eyes were immediately drawn to a verdejo - a Spanish white grape variety which isn't often very expensive - so that's what we had. It was so good, it was all we could talk about until the group had finished the entire bottle, so naturally I'm here to tell you ALL to drink some. Drink some NOW.

Handy Verdejo Facts

Used for: Dry white wines
Origin: Spain
Most Commonly Grown In: A region called Rueda. For the Spanish Geography Beginners (i.e me) the Rueda region is in an area you can loosely describe as 'central western' Spain, not massively far from the Portuguese border and also about 170km north-west of Madrid. It's also not too far west of a better known wine region called Ribera del Duero.
How Long Has It Been Cool: Not Long. It really only started being made well in a modern style about 15 years ago.
What's It Like: To compare to better known varieties, I'd say it's kind of a cross between sauvignon blanc and chardonnay - it has some of sauvignon's aromatic freshness but it also has some of chardonnay's weight in a slightly rich and sometimes kind of creamy way.
Taste profile: Generally, think summery florals and grassiness, crisp citrus and fleshy stone fruits (like melon and peach), with creamy, sometimes nutty character too.
What's It Good For: Summer! And picnics. And pre-dinner drinks and nibbles. And pasta and salads
Eat it with: Light, summer dishes like pastas, salads and gazpacho.

I love it not only for its summery brightness and pleasingly punchy texture but because of the complexity you get for your buck - it's one of those 'no one's heard of it so we can't change through the roof prices' wines where at the moment you'll find bonkers value for money.

So where can you find one to try?
Good news - everywhere! Even if you've never noticed it, you'll find one in basically every supermarket, and even better examples at wine merchants throughout the land. Here are a few I've tried:

1. Vega de la Reina Verdejo, £9.99 or £7.49 if you buy two at Majestic (definitely buy two. Or six?)

From Rueda, this was a pretty safe benchmark verdejo that went down very easily indeed. Floral and crisp with a nice softness, this isn't as creamy or complex as some others, but it's absolutely perfect to sip when soaking up the last of the evening sun.

2. Sainsbury's Winemakers' El Pozo Bueno Rueda Verdejo, £6 or 2 for £10 until 1st July

At a fiver each in this offer, this really is impressive when you compare it to your average £5 sauvignon (i.e GOOSEBERRY AND ACID IN A GLASS) and is about 100 times better than the big branded sugar-filled stuff you might buy for £6 or £7 quid.

It's blended with a little bit of sauvignon so it's just as refreshing but slightly rounder. You won't get the same complexity as with more expensive versions but this really isn't bad at all.

3. For a similarly 'bloody hell that's cheap' tasty verdejo-sauvignon blend, try the Gran Familia Las Primas White at Tesco Wines. It's currently on offer at £30 per case of 6 - which is almost half it's normal price! It's peachy and very sippable when putting the world to rights with a friend or two.

4. Verdeja, Menade, Rueda Blanco, £8.99 from Adnams Cellars

Menade is a really good producer run by three siblings in Rueda, and they're pretty ace at creating super, fruit-driven wines for summer drinking. This is pretty much textbook verdejo at it's tastiest and I absolutely love it. I'll be popping into the nearby branch of Adnams when I'm in Norfolk next month (they have a few branches across the UK) but you can also buy it online, woohoo!

5. Las Olas Verdejo, £7.99 from The Wine Society

If you're lucky enough to be a member (seriously, join up already! Although I am probably biased because I work there) you can grab a bottle of this organic verdejo - also made by Menade - for even better value for money. It's honestly one of the best expressions of the grape you'll try and I can never stick to one glass when I buy a bottle...

There are many other varieties out there but these are the ones I've tried that made me very happy indeed. Even ASDA does a verdejo-chardonnay blend and Waitrose has put its name to a verdejo in its own wine range, so just get out there and find one to crack open before the sun goes in. And then let us know what you think!

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